Thursday, September 24, 2009

On the banks of Nong Harn Lake

I was born in Sakon Nakhon, a Northeastern province of Thailand some two hundred kilometers off the great Mekhong River close to important crossings to Laos.  I never really lived there since my father's job took us away when I was only two years old, but both my parents have extensive families and deep roots with this sleepy town on the banks of Nong Harn Lake.  During numerous visits over the years, I searched for stories of its history again and again, always finding something new to learn about this outpost where the Royal family deemed important enough to build their winter palace in the Phu Pan mountain range.

The present day city took its time in picking up a more urban life.  It had remained nearly unchanged over some twenty or more years as I was growing up.  It was only in the late nineties that some modernization and renovation works seem to have caught up a bit, changing Sakon Nakhon's once familiar landscape into something a bit more exciting than the sleepy town it once was.  However, anyone who visits Sakon Nakhon and gets to know its people soon discovers that its more interesting stories are hidden in its people's memories of historical events that have touched this surprising well visited place over centuries.


I've visited Wat That Choeng Chum with my mother several times to pay respects to the Buddha image in its main hall and as well as to receive blessings from its abbots.  Of course, my mother kept stressing how important it all was to me but that didn't sink in until I read Eye Witness's Thailand guide book. Isn't it strange how growing up with certain sights/monuments you don't really value its importance until something/someone forces you to look at it with new eyes?

Sakon Nakhon turns out to be a very ancient place with prehistoric ancient cave painting and its most prominent monuments dating back to the 11th century.  The 'living' evidence of this is the Phra That Narai Cheng Weng, built by the princess whose name was given to this Kmer style Hindu religious monument.  A lintel hangs over its entrance showing Vishnu dancing to the destruction of the universe as he tramples the head of a lion.

The main temple hall of another landmark in Sakon Nakhon is the Wat Pra That Choeng Chum.  It was built during the time of Ayudha but with a Lao styled chedi.  If you plan to visit this temple, make sure to look for the hidden door (behind the main Buddha image) which is occasionally open for you to enter the ancient prang where you may find an ancient Kmer inscription at the base of its entrance.  Within the prang are several Lao and Kmer Buddha images.

Sadly one evidence of the city's antiquity that has been altered by approaching urbanism is the square-shaped, double-layered Koo Muang (คูเมือง) or ancient moats that once encircled a city center, a very common characteristic of old cities in the Southeast Asian peninsula.  It is now just a common road.  It is also believed that the inland pond, Sra Pan Thong, just off the banks of the Nong Harn Lake was built around the same period.  Centuries later it still offers the surrounding residence a perfect place to spend a romantic afternoon with your date or just for a round of daily exercise.

There's much more to write about Sakon Nakhon's history and I'll be posting them here on Nui's Streams (streams of history, cultural streams) in patches.

A note for anyone interested in visiting my hometown:  Planning to visit Thailand's provinces during their famous festival seasons is the best way to catch the lively vibe of many of these far away and usually sleepy places.  Sakon Nakhon's festivals are the Red Cross Fair, So Ram Luk Festival, Boon Bangfai or Rocket Festival (at Amphoe Phang Kone), Boat Race festival, and its famous Wax Parade Festival.  You can look out for the events with a fellow blogger passionate about the place:

P.S: Don't go back home without some georgeous Madmee silk or village woven naturally dyed cotton, or some of Sakon's delicious isaan sausages.

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